Eluding the all-points-bulletin and manhunt for six-days, self-proclaimed LAPD angel of death, 33-year-old cop killer Christopher Dorner, went down Feb. 12 in a blaze of glory in the Big Bear area of the San Bernadino Mountains, about 80 miles northeast of Los Angeles. Dorner’s rampage began Feb. 7 with the revenge killing of his attorney’s 28-year-old daughter and her 27-year-old fiancée, ambushed in their Irvine apartment garage. Dorner’s attorney, Randy Quan, failed to win a Review Board Hearing in 2008, resulting in his termination. While police focus on Dorner’s motives for the mayhem, a post-mortem psychological autopsy may reveal the real reasons behind his killing spree, including an undiagnosed mental illness that transforms well-adjusted individuals into ballistic killers. Dorner revealed some of his insanity in a Facebook rant promising revenge on the LAPD.
Before Dorner’s last stand Feb. 12, he managed to kill a Riverside County Sheriff Jeremiah MacKay, injuring another deputy in a firefight lasting several minutes, exchanging hundreds of rounds of ammo. As a 15 year veteran with a wife, 7-year-old daughter and four-month-old son, Riverside County Sheriff procedures didn’t require MacKay to exchange gunfire with a known marksman, decorated by the Navy reserves for firearms’ sophistication. “You just never know if the guy’s going to pop out or where ‘s going to pop out,” MacKay told the press before he succumbed to a Dorner bullet. “We’re hoping this comes to a close without any more casualties,” said MacKay, who engaged Dorner in the firefight that cost him his life. Had MacKay called for backup, and continued to track Dorner’s whereabouts, he’d still be alive while the final episode played itself out..
Taking refuge in a high-end mountain retreat, Dorner was cornered by a multi-agency sheriff and police force comprised of Riverside and San Bernadino County sheriffs and police, together with a sizable LAPD detail. Had MacKay waited for reinforcements, the Dorner’s fate wouldn’t have changed. Holed up in the single-family dwelling, Dorner had nowhere to go with law enforcement sealing off the property’s perimeter. “It was not on purpose,” said San Berandino Sheriff John McMahon, whose deputies launched incendiary teargas canister that burned down the property. “We did not intentionally burn down the cabin to get Mr. Dorner out,” insisted McMahon, whose deputies fired incendiary or “hot” teargas canisters into the property. Some media outlets fingered Dorner for igniting the dwelling, the same explanation given for the April 19, 1993 final inferno in Branch Davidian complex in Waco, Texas.
San Bernadino authorities admit to lobbing in “pyrotechnic tear gas canister” but still suggest that Dorner himself started the fire. When the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms hit Waco with incendiary bombs to end the seven-week siege, 76 men, women and children, including 33-year-old cult leader David Koresh, died. Holed up for less than 24 yours, it’s possible San Bernadino Sheriffs could have tried some other tactics to win Dorner’s surrender other than incendiary devices. Sifting through the burned out rubble, authorities can’t yet confirm whether the charred body found at the scene was that of Dorner. Sheriff MacMahon said he considered the manhunt over, believing Dorner’s blackened corpse was found in the wreckage. Retired FBI profiler Jim Clemente speculated that Dorner’s was not the calculating psychopathic killer described on his Internet rant.
Clemente believes that a more methodical killer would not have tipped off the police to his motives and methods. “You don’t tell LAPD in advance so they can put a bunch of bodygurards on people. He went and killed soft targets, innocent citizens, who had nothing to do with him at all. He used those to scare people, and he used those sadistically to harm the LAPD officer he wanted to get at,” said Clemente, referring to retired Cpt. Randy Quan, whose daughter and future son-in-law were among Dorner’s first victims. While Dorner stated on Facebook his intent to retaliate against the LAPD for wrongly terminating his career, the public was robbed of learning more about the brain—and personality—of former-rogue-cop-turned serial killer. Clemente points to glaring contradictions in Dorner’s methods, no longer knowable because the police got impatient and firebombed his hideout.
Dorner’s case of a cop-gone-mad riveted the nation for nearly a week. While it’s not known whether Dorner could have been taken alive, the San Berandino police could have consulted more extensively with the FBI and other law enforcement agencies before lobbing incendiary teargas canisters. Emotions run wild when police pursue cop killers with good reason. But for the sake of the public and scientific study of ballistic killers, the police could have waited longer before deciding to end the siege with a pyrotechnic device. While everyone mourns the loss of life—especially uniformed public servants—the police should examine carefully rules of engagement that cost Riverside County Sheriff Jeremiah MacKay his life. Instead of going it alone, the police must have safer ways to neutralize ballistic killers without placing peace officers into risky situations with dangerous criminals.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.